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A Look Back: My Stern Experience Didn’t Go As Planned, For the Better

Thirty-nine days from this writing, I will graduate from Stern with my Masters in Business Administration. Graduation will represent the fulfillment of one of my life goals and the beginning of a new journey, but I will dearly miss my time here. Over the last two years, not only have I have learned a great deal about business, but I’ve also learned a great deal about myself. Not only have I have met some of the most interesting, driven and ambitious people I have ever been around but I have also build many strong friendships. Yet if I told you my experience at Stern was exactly what I expected, I would be lying.

Coming into Stern, I initially had a plan. I knew what I wanted from my MBA experience and had a good idea of how I thought I would spend my time during those two years. I knew what classes I planned on taking, what clubs I would join and what jobs I would be recruiting for. To quote Mike Tyson however: “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

My metaphorical punch in the face happened just during my first semester. I came into school already anticipating that the recruiting process was going to be rigorous. But I was nowhere near prepared for the whirlwind of recruiting, assimilating back into an academic environment and trying to find my place among my classmates. The best part about the first semester was that everyone was going through a similar experience and sharing a wave of mixed emotions: was it misery?despair? questioning all the life choices that led to this? The widely felt struggle was something that helped further solidify the many new relationships I was making. Before I knew it, though, the first semester was over. In another blink of an eye, winter break came to a close and I had secured a summer internship.

All of a sudden, I was relatively free. But, I also felt strangely lost. Even though my second semester was much less structured than the first and I had the opportunity to explore my original plan for business school, I felt like I didn’t know where to start. Six months had passed and the only thing I felt good about was securing an internship in my field of interest. Other than that, I feel like I let a quarter of my MBA journey go by and accomplished very little. Could I still get involved with the clubs I wanted to? If I had met someone during the first semester and had fallen out of touch with them, was it too late to strike up a friendship? Would my friends from the first semester still be my friends now that we didn’t see each other daily at recruiting events and core classes?

I looked back at my plan and realized I didn’t do much of what I thought I would. I had to pick somewhere to start, so I decided to focus on my classes and hope that the rest of my plan would somehow fall into place. In hindsight, I am pleasantly surprised that burying my head in the academic sand didn’t backfire on me and actually helped me reconnect with people, deepen friendships and even make new ones. As my second semester ended, I felt a bit better. I had survived the meatgrinder of the first semester and had come out on the other side with newfound skill sets, confidence and friends. I refocused on my classes and learned a lot.

But I still felt there was something missing. I hadn’t done anything to contribute to the broader Stern community. This was one of my major regrets from my undergraduate studies and I didn’t want to finish what would be my last university experience (I think…) with the same regret. Perhaps emboldened by my ability to survive the fall semester as an MBA 1, I set a schedule loaded with classes, clubs, LAUNCH, Career Mentorship and Admissions responsibilities.

The beginning of my second year at Stern was just as busy as my first, though thankfully recruiting was not involved this time around. I was excited that I was at least attempting to execute my initial plan for business school. Despite my planning, my second year has still been markedly different than what I expected. Unlike my first year, I have embraced the idea of learning for learning’s sake – both inside and outside of the classroom. I have spent less time worrying about grades and a high GPA and more time making sure I am actually learning something in each of my classes.

Outside of the classroom, writing for the Stern Oppy has given me the opportunity to learn about a number of different topics such as the state of the healthcare industry, how emerging market economies are developing, and what role (if any) consulting firms should play in geopolitics. Through my extracurricular involvement, I had the opportunity to develop new friendships with people I would not have met otherwise and learned more about my classmates than I otherwise would have. For instance, being a LAUNCH Captain not only allowed me to meet a huge number of MBA1’s but it also allowed me to build relationships and befriend many of my own classmates who I didn’t meet during my first year. In fact, my fellow LAUNCH Captains are some of my favorite people at Stern and I hadn’t really met most of them prior to our second year.

Many of these extracurriculars have also been much more social than I anticipated, forcing me out of my comfort zone and into being a more proactive member of the Stern community. My roles as a LAUNCH Captain, Career Mentor and Graduate Ambassador for the Admissions Office forced me to open up about my own experiences at Stern and provide advice to others who were wrestling with similar struggles and decisions. Hopefully, some of that advice was actually helpful. If nothing else, these experiences have made my second year a much more rewarding experience than the first.

Thirty-nine days from now, I will graduate Stern. Even with all of my planning, my MBA journey has been different than I anticipated. Now I realize that is a great thing. I have learned that I can withstand an onslaught of deadlines, deliverables and self-imposed crises of confidence. I have gained confidence in my abilities as a businessman as well as the confidence to speak my mind about my ideas. I have not only been inspired by my classmates and their dedication to their own goals and plans, but also by their willingness to approach every day with an open mind. I have made friends and built relationships with people I never would have met without our shared Stern experience.

Getting an MBA is an intense experience. It was all too easy in the first semester to become singularly focused on simply making it through and thereby miss out on the rest of the experience. If any of my fellow MBA 2’s made it this far through my writing, congratulations on our upcoming graduation and thank you for making the past two years as special as they were. For any MBA 1’s, I encourage you to pursue your goals with all of your energy while keeping your mind open to all the new opportunities Stern has to offer. Get involved with clubs you were hesitant to, take classes you otherwise would not and go out of your way to meet new people. Stern will change you, if you let it, and if your experience is anything like mine, it will be for the better.

Photo credit: Brendan Church on Unsplash

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